The Implications of Lockdown on the downtrodden sections of the society.


HOW GOVERNMENT FAILED AS THE CARETAKERS AND KILLED THEIR MALNOURISHED KIDS COMMONLY KNOWN AS “LABOURERS”


The coronavirus became an eclipse on the globe on December 31,2019 when China informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) about a cluster of cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause in Wuhan city in Hubei province. Later on January 9,2020 the World Health Organisation issued a statement saying Chinese researchers made “preliminary determination” of the virus as novel coronavirus. The virus spread beyond Wuhan when a team of scientists in Shanghai sequenced the complete genome of the virus and published it on virological.org, an online discussion forum for epidemiologists. This gave researchers around the world a way to identify the virus in patients and infections were quickly found outside of Wuhan. Thailand confirmed its first case followed by Japan. A wave of infections started to sweep Asia and Hong Kong after which the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic a global health emergency which lead to closing down of schools. Soon the virus made an impending shift towards Europe with Italy becoming the heart of the outbreak and surpassed the death toll in China. In the meantime, it was the wakeup call for United States of America when they reported their first Covid-19 death case. The Europe and the United States struggled to show the spread of the virus. The coronavirus affected not only China, Italy and America but several other nations including India.

Likewise, India which also became one of the nations which got enormously effected due to the coronavirus with its first case being reported in the state of Kerala. Consequently, there was a sudden rise in the number of cases, spreading to all the states and union territories with approximately 500 confirmed positive coronavirus cases in India. “Most of the coronavirus cases in India originated abroad rather than being transmitted within the country according to an analysis of an official data by The Print”. It was then when our Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the nation on 19th March in order to impose one-day “Janata Curfew” for March 22 which further led to the first national containment measure in the form of nationwide lockdown on March 25 for 21 days. Lockdown an “emergency protocol” was implemented to prevent people from leaving a given area. In addition, it meant that people must stay where they are and not exit or enter a building or the given area. Nevertheless, all essential supplies, grocery stores, pharmacies and banks continued to serve the people. All non-essential activities remained shut for the entire period. Strict travel restrictions were imposed on some states which were severely infected and many public places were closed. Not only did the government close all the bus services but also all the educational institutions, industrial establishments and hospitality services were also suspended. Petrol pumps, ATMs and other manufacturing essentials were exempted. The Home Ministry stated that anyone breaking the rules, could be punished with simple imprisonment for a term that may extend to Rs 200, or with both.

While addressing the citizens of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the objective behind implementing 21 days lockdown was to control the spread of coronavirus and break the cycle of transmission through social distancing. Furthermore, the idea of lockdown was to ‘flatten the curve’ of growth in coronavirus cases and deaths which would naturally lead to reduction of Covid-19 cases. However, India’s strict lockdown failed miserably to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases and failed to flatten the curve. There are several reasons which point out why the lockdown in India was a total failure. First and the foremost reason, possibly an important one too is that we started the lockdown too late. There’s one thing common about the places that were able to get rid of coronavirus early which is they started early. Secondly, before the first 21 days national lockdown was to be imposed there was no prior notice given to the people to prepare for the same. The world’s largest lockdown made people in the state of shock the reason being they were not accustomed to a new way of life, they didn’t get time to make arrangements and stock up essentials. Moreover, there was police duress and intimidation on the people to enforce the lockdown on the poor or poverty stricken. Instead, the need was a lockdown which was driven more by persuasion and reasoning ensuring a greater participation.

The next time was one of the greatest mistakes all of us made was a deliberate undertesting for coronavirus which was done to keep the numbers artificially low. Both Central and State government were ignorant as they feared political backlash. Ironically, less testing spreads coronavirus faster, because one doesn’t know who to isolate. In addition to this we couldn’t enforce the lockdown on much of the population because the people staying in populous crawls and slums, distant villages, famers who were allowed to move around for seasonal harvest- all of this adjoined considerable people who didn’t follow the lockdown. We can say though it was the world’s stringent lockdown, in practice, it was the loosest. The worst example of this and also the cause which was very less talked about was of course migrant labourers who were supposed to be allowed to return home in the first place. Coronavirus spread among them faster as they were prevented from coming home which led to spreading the infection in their home states as well. “According to the World Economic Forum, there are estimated 139 million migrants in the country. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) predicted that due to the pandemic and the lockdown, about 400 million workers would be poverty stricken”. Most of the migrants in this country come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, followed be Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The lockdown majorly effected the downtrodden sections of the society which comprises of people mainly from the informal sector- street vendors, low level labourers and a large proportion of whom are migrant workers, who during the national lockdown had to face multiple hardships. The migrants had to flee the cities due to the jolts from the government. They were jobless with factories and workplaces being shut down. Their families had to go through hunger and starvation and in addition to this they had to deal with the loss of income which further caused uncertainty about their future. There were no means of transport due to which thousands of them went back walking. It was reported that 300 migrant workers died due to the lockdown reason being starvation, road and rail accidents, police brutality and untimely medical care. The labourers found themselves difficult to face this economic tsunami due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Central and State governments supplied additional food, cash and other essentials but failed to reduce the insecurities and uncertainties in peoples lives. In a country like India where millions of people die out of starvation and lack of food, controlling the spread of such a virus is big task in itself. More than 50% of children and women (15-49 years) are among the economically disadvantaged people in India. i.e. belonging to scheduled caste and tribes are anaemic. Most of (around 92%) is informal, including domestic servants, construction workers, vegetable vendors, etc. many of these labourers are internal migrants (approx. 450 million) forming the backbone of India’s informal sector and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Undernutrition and food insecurity is major problem among this migrant population especially in women and children.Some daily wage workers lost their livelihood as those jobs could not be performed at homes due to which they faced a lot of food insecurity and moved back to their villages. Second and an important contributor to food insecurity was that halted transportation led to very slight access of farmers to seeds, fertilizers and insecticides. States failed to provide food through the public distribution system(PDS) due to lack of portability. Under this migrants can claim access to benefits at only one location and loose access upon migration to a different location. PDS is not portable across the states and excludes inter-state migrants from the PDS unless they surrender their card from the home state and get a new one from the home state. This in a visceral way decreased the availability of food in the market for the poor which further lead to the death of millions of people due to hunger and starvation. The government laid out various schemes to ensure food safety of the poor but due to the ineffective distribution system it failed to be effective. One of the schemes which was initiated by the government as of mid April was ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system wherein the migrant workers were allowed to retrieve food grains for free anywhere across the country but it was implemented in a very few states and half the population was unaware about the scheme. Delhi-based NGO Jan Sahashas found that 90% of those surveyed have already lost their only source of income, while 42% of them did not have food rations for a single day. Another survey of 11,000 workers has found that 96% of them have not received food rations from the government and 89% have not been paid by their employers during the lockdown. Moreover, the petty artisans and their families from the rural areas who are engaged in small shops and low scale businesses in the urban areas had to go through lot of hardships due to the suspension of all the economic activities. Lack of affordable housing and basic amenities left them homeless in urban areas.

The government in response to this announced several relief camps with measures to help these downtrodden sections or the migrant labourers. Schemes like Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojna (PMGKY) which aimed to ensure food security. Soon after the announcement of the Central Government several states like Delhi government set up camps to provide home to the home deprived people. In addition to this the government provided food to 4 lakh people everyday. Apart from this the Kerala government changed the menu of the food by adding north Indian dishes in order to cater to the needs of the migrants and to prevent them from leaving their respective camps. Other than this the Uttar Pradesh government arranged buses at Delhi’s Anand Vihar bus station to help the stranded labourers back to their respective villages. On the other side the Indian Railways with the permission of the central government started “Shramik Special” trains for the migrant workers. As per the reports 40 lakh migrants had travelled to their villages through buses and 80% people comprising from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh travelled through trains. Another scheme launched by the government of India was the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan which was a rural public works initiative to provide funding to the migrant labourers with an initial funding of 50,000 crores for 116 districts in 6 states. The COVID-19 pandemic left India’s migrant labourers in an extremely fragile state.

Now, a nation like India which has more than a billion stomachs to fill the government and the soceity has to play their respective roles to turnaroud the economy and revamp the situation of underpriveleged hands of our people.It is not just limited to provide free rashion for few months whereas it is now a time to curb down the mistakes we ddi in the past in highly populated states of India such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.The government should focus on developing Economic engines in these states so that poor labourers should not take an unwanted morning walk to states like Maharashtra and Gujarat to see the dawn of their lives.Blue Chip Companies can’t be opened in few days whereas what governement sshould focus is upon rejunevating the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises which could lead to become the new engine of growth for India.

Gone are the days when Labourers of our Nation wanted Crutches....

now they deserve to get legs to walk upon......

legs which could make them feel empowered.....

legs which could free them from fetters of poverty

legs which could make them fill the nation with lights of prosperity in consonance with their growth and economic stability.


Authored by

Neelima Singh

3rd WINNER IN 2nd NATIONAL ARTICLE/ESSAY WRITING COMPETITION




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